Experiencing the Horsey Side of College through the IHSA

Ashley Boykin has a degree in journalism from Troy University in Troy, Alabama. She writes for various domestic and international clients and has an incurable addiction to wanderlust. Her free time is spent at the barn preparing to compete in dressage shows in the Southeastern United States or planning her next getaway.

A crucial part in an equestrian’s career is when he or she heads off to college. For this is the time when many childhood horses are sold or retired since their charges have grown up and are headed to colleges and universities. Yet, even though many avid horseback riders must leave their best friends at home or with a new, loving family, they are surprisingly able to still participate in the horse world and at a much less, stress-inducing financial bracket. Even more unbelievable is that people who have never been in a barn can get a chance to receive an introduction to the horse world and compete even though they have never been on the back of a horse.

This is because thanks to the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA) everyone from beginners to experienced competitors can ride and compete at horse shows throughout their collegiate career. The IHSA offers riders the chance to show off their equestrian skills by facing off in competitions with other colleges’ horse and rider pairings. Riders compete in either eight levels of hunt seat competition or six levels of western. The categories are sorted according to proficiency level, therefore beginners will not be placed in a class with people who have been riding their entire lives.

Furthermore, the IHSA aims to mitigate the financial impact that showing places on competitors. Thus, IHSA riders do not use their own horses (or even need them) and do not use their own tack. Additionally, the organization wants to ensure that everyone is on as level a playing field as possible. Therefore at a competition, riders’ mounts are selected by pulling names out of a hat and they are not allowed to school them for an extended period of time.

One of the overwhelming benefits of participating in the IHSA is the camaraderie between horses and people. Even from the very beginning, one can walk into a barn and meet a few friendly faces and someone willing to help another learn about horses and showing. All it usually takes to be placed on the competitive collegiate equestrian path is to phone the college’s equestrian program director and inquire about riding for the team. Yet, interested parties should be forewarned. Competing at this level is not a walk in the park. One must meet grade and fitness requirements to secure a spot on the team.

Very few people understand the rigors horseback riding places on the body. Many members of society mistakenly believe that one simply sits atop a horse much like sitting in a chair. However, riders need to have a strong core, back and legs because they are riding another animal through many paces and the only thing is allows them to stay poised and appear as if they are doing nothing is by engaging their core muscles.

The IHSA has been a big help in allowing many people to become introduced to horses and competition as well as helping others continue their equestrian career while in college. The organization has grown since its inception and currently has the support of many major equestrian organizations. So whether you have been riding for years or have never stepped in a barn, now is your chance to go catch a ride on the original all-terrain vehicle!

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